First look
First look

Supporters reveal plans for use of open space

Proponents of a new regional park at Fort Missoula have unveiled a preliminary plan that offers a diverse array of recreational opportunities to local outdoors enthusiasts.

Now, they must convince the public it's the right plan and figure out how to pay for it.

"We've tried to present a plan that represents a diverse group of people in the community - from soccer moms to people who were involved in Save the Fort," said Jim Van Fossen, the director of Missoula Parks and Recreation.

Van Fossen and other members of the city-county working group that pieced together the Fort Missoula plan presented the proposal earlier this week to members of the public during open house sessions at Target Range School and Missoula City Hall. The presentations gave members of the public the first glimpse at plans to turn some 180 acres of city, county and school district land at Fort Missoula into a regional recreation complex.

"This is just a preliminary site plan," Van Fossen said. "It's not set in concrete. … It just gives us an idea of what the area could look like."

If all components of the plan are adopted, including the purchase of 20 acres of land that is currently owned by the Missoula County Public Schools District, Van Fossen said the development costs could be as much as $10 million.

"We don't have the money," he said.

But Van Fossen said several fund-raising options could be used, including obtaining federal grants, holding a bond issue election, utilizing park user fees and soliciting donations.

"We're still seeking public comment on how to do this," he said. "We want to assemble all components and integrate them into the plan. … It will take several years to develop. And I expect we would also have to develop it in stages."

Members of the public who attended the open houses this week were presented with two different plans. One plan hinges on the ability of the city and county to purchase the 20 acres of school district land, which is located right in the middle of the proposed park site. The other plan makes use of the school land, which currently is home to the district's agricultural education center.

With or without the school land, the plan lays out a spacious park that includes six new softball playing fields, two softball practice fields, nine soccer fields, four rugby pitches, the eight existing tennis courts, two basketball courts and two croquet courses. Some of the fields could also be lighted, allowing additional nighttime activities. Several natural and picnic areas, gardens, a trail system, roadways and play areas are also included in the plans.

The availability of the school land could also allow developers to add a community center, ice skating rink and other park features.

"The main concept is that it is a regional park with a balance of usage," said Jennie Meinershagen, of Rocking R Consulting, the firm that has been working with the Fort Missoula group. "It includes major sports complexes, but it is not dominated by major sport. The goal has been balance."

The plan has already drawn criticism from supporters of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula and the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History. Van Fossen said members of the working group would like to hear from any other parties with concerns.

Van Fossen said some form of the plan will likely be presented to the Missoula City Council, the Missoula County commissioners and the Park Board by mid-June. He said backers will then try to develop a funding plan and begin talking with architects about specific design and construction plans.

For more information on the plan, call Missoula Parks and Recreation at 721-7275.

Reporter Gary Jahrig can be reached at 523-5259 or gjahrig@missoulian.com.

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